DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Foxcroft Academy and John Bapst of Bangor are two of the state’s more successful Class C football programs of the last decade.
Foxcroft won six Eastern Maine titles and two state crowns during an eight-year period from 2002 to 2009, while John Bapst played in four consecutive regional finals before falling in the semifinals a year ago.
Foxcroft won state titles in 2003 and 2007 during that span, while John Bapst was the 2008 Class C state champion.
Both teams brought high expectations into the 2012 season but shared a preseason question mark with new starting quarterbacks making their varsity debuts.
That the teams have advanced to Saturday’s 1 p.m. LTC Class C championship game at Oakes Field with identical 9-1 records stems in part from the development of Foxcroft’s Hunter Law and John Bapst’s Austin Spencer at the game’s most important position.
Spencer was a candidate for the starting QB job at John Bapst in 2011 before suffering a preseason injury, but he has emerged this fall as the LTC’s top passer.
“We knew he’d be very capable, but we didn’t know if he’d improve this much because he was only a junior without many varsity reps,” said John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell. “But he’s a good athlete, very quick and he throws the ball well. The big thing was how quickly he’d develop a feel for the game.”
The growth in Spencer’s game has resulted in an expansion of the playbook, making the junior quarterback all the more dangerous whether running the ball or creating open-field opportunities for his teammates.
“For me, it was probably just figuring out how to be a leader and getting myself in a rhythm, then going out to play,” said Spencer. “We went from a couple of plays to now we have a whole wristband of plays.”
Spencer has completed 88 of 164 passes for 1,479 yards with 23 touchdowns — all league highs — while rushing for a team-high 578 yards this fall out as part of a Crusaders’ offense that has been remarkably balanced with 1,582 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground and 1,549 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air.
“He’s been one of the best players in the league this year, there’s no question, and he keeps getting better every week,” said Foxcroft coach Danny White. “He’s going to be a factor come Saturday afternoon. He’s a competitor, he wants the ball in his hands, and if you’re John Bapst that’s what you want, a quarterback who doesn’t just want to be in that spot but wants to have the ball, too, whether it’s on the run or through the air.”
Law has completed 41 of 74 passes for 806 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 422 rushing yards, but his primary job has been to choreograph a Foxcroft offense that focuses mainly on the run — with 2,438 yards on the ground compared to 952 through the air.
“The biggest thing I had to work on was my decision making,” said Law, also a state champion wrestler at Foxcroft. “Coming out for my first year playing varsity here, it’s completely different because playing JV you can do a lot more with your feet. You still have that option on the varsity, but you have to do other things, too.”
Law also has made the most of the adversity he has faced this season, bouncing back from his team’s only loss at Bucksport with a renewed attention to playmaking detail.
“After we lost that Bucksport game, it’s awful to lose but it taught me so much,” said Law. “I learned that you can’t take chances down the field when you don’t need to, you have to work your way down the field slower at times.”
Foxcroft’s offense has been relentless since that defeat, scoring three wins by a combined 159-20 including a 45-0 win over Bucksport in last weekend’s semifinals, where Law rushed for two touchdowns to stake the Ponies to a 14-0 lead.
“We knew how athletic Hunter was, but he had to become a quarterback,” said White. “That’s happened. He’s really turned into a quarterback, and the biggest thing has been his decision making. Especially after the Bucksport loss, we brought things back to earth and learned a tremendous amount from it, He understood what it meant to read the field and make decisions and not just look for No. 5 [senior wideout Ryan Rebar]. He admitted he wasn’t necessarily doing that early on.
“He’s been very good for us. He’s matured, and he’s definitely who we want under center.”
Foxcroft handed the Crusaders their only loss, 40-0 in Bangor on Oct. 7.